Rumours and collective fear - Faculty of Oriental Studies

Report
RUMOURS AND COLLECTIVE FEAR
“CHINESE” WHISPERS

an experiment
reliability transmission
 meaning of the message

gossip
 hear-say
 rumour
 folklore

WHY STUDY RUMOURS
AGAINST A TEXTUALIZED VIEW OF THE
WORLD

claims of China as textual empire overdone


the role of the textual has a history
at all times texts are interpreted
through preexisting texts
 through oral knowledge/lore


all events have an important oral component
archives only (very) partial
 need for alternative sources

diaries
 letters
 memories
 etc.

limited sphere of writing in premodern China
 much information only transmitted orally

NEED TO STUDY THE ORAL

inherent problem of sources
writing down itself changes the oral
 writing and oral have histories
 over time writing acquires higher status




differences social group
differences genre etc.
how to study oral transmission
need to know the who, how and what of transmission
 reception of transmission (same is true for reading and
writing)


rumours
intrinsic interest
 experienced as threat=> production of record
 some rumours spread fast=> collective fear=> many
records

STATE’S MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE ORAL
states rely strongly on texts, overestimate role of
texts
 issue of control

oral messages function differently depending on
nature of the network
 oral potentially influenced/changed/adapted at each
stage transmission (esp. between groups/networks)


tendency to interpret spread as organization
ADVANTAGE OF STUDYING RUMOURS
rumours spread quickly>fear>documentation
 documentation

minimally: presence rumour + year
 additional info: variations in rumour, who are
spreading, details in consequences


possible analysis
changes in contents over time and space
 speed and distance of spread


understanding collective fear
as form of collective action
 reinterpreting past “rebellions/incidents” as caused
by rumours

AUNTIE OLD TIGER
ANTECEDENTS: THE SPOTTED BARBARIAN

bogeyman threats to children
Ma Hu 麻胡 (original name Ma Qiu 麻秋), 麻祜
Liu Hu 劉胡
 and others
 barbarian, tattooed face, demonic>liminal



“beating the yehu”
before Tang many homophones, during Tang and Song
usually 夜狐,野虎,野胡, 夜胡: consistently liminal
creatures of liminal spaces, increasingly thought of as
living among mankind
 exorcism of demonic creatures
 enacted during rituals by beggars

=>old folkloric complex



name consistent in pronunciation
descriptions and choice of characters suggest marginality
expelled with violence
A NEW TYPE OF MONSTER: EARLY EVIDENCE

written down late 15th century
“in the North, old women of over eighty or ninety, whose
teeth have fallen out and grown again, may go out during
the evening and at night, and eat people‘s babies. They are
called Autumn Aunties (qiugu 秋姑)”
 old woman identified as such


written down before 1716,

“There was a granny (laomu 老母) of over 90 years of age,
who only shared her bed with one small grandchild. The
grandchild once heard her eating noisily at night. When he
inquired about this, she replied ‘You are mistaken! Where
would I get something at night? ’ A few nights later the
same thing happened again. The grandchild told it to the
people in the household (jiaren 家人). Together they
secretly opened up her bed mat and inspected it. It was full
of human bones. Thereupon they were greatly startled, and
together they grabbed her and placed her in confinement."
THE EARLIEST COMPLETE STORY
…
The girl said: 'This child is also hungry.' She gave a date, but it was a
cold human finger. The girl was very startled. She got up and said: 'This
child has to go to the toilet. ‘The old lady said: 'The mountains a re deep
and there are many tigers. I am afraid you might walk into the mouth of
a tiger. Be careful, but it would be better if you did not get up.'The girl
said: 'When a untie ties up this child's foot with a big rope, then she can
pull it back again when something urgent happens.'The old lady agreed.
Thereupon she tied a rope to her foot and grabbed hold of one end. The
girl then got up, dragged the rope with her and walked outside into the
moonlight. vVhen she looked at it, it turned out to be innards. She
untied them and climbed up a tree to escape [the old lady].The old lady
waited for a long period and then called the girl. When she did not reply,
she again called out: 'You child come, listen to this old woman's words.
Do not let the cold wind touch your skin. If you have to go back
tomorrow because you have become ill, your mother will say that I have
not looked after you properly.' Thereupon, she pulled at the innards, but
when the inna rds returned, the girl did not. The old lady wept and got
up. She ran and called out: 'It seems as if I see the girl in the tree.' She
called [the girl] , who did not reply. The old lady got afraid of the
situation and said: 'In the tree is a tiger.‘ The girl said: 'In the tree is
much better than on a sleeping mat. You are the real tiger. How did you
dare to eat my younger brother?‘ The old lady left in great anger. …
DISCUSSION

above: fragment of the complete story
1748 or older
represents the mature version as told in China in the 20th
century, but also the very similar versions as told in late
19the century Europe
 more complete than “Ma mère l'oye” version (from 1697),
which lacks the final escape of the girl





1837 account of “Autumn Barbarian Granny” (qiuhu
laoma 秋胡老媽), led to actual persecution &
execution
various similar cases recorded for 18th and 19th
century China of old women seen as preying on
children and persecuted for it
the above story is found all over China in 20th century


identical plot as pre-1748 account
similar names as old Ma Hu/yehu complex
OVERALL THOUGHTS

core elements stable over centuries (name
creature, marginality, violent expulsion)


strength of oral transmission
narrative may be newer, especially the weredimension (lack of data)

capability oral tradition to transmit
a narrative over centuries
demonizing power of stories=>
real persecutions
 a Chinese story in origin?

DARK AFFLICTIONS
QUEUECUTTING
&
DARK AFFLICTIONS 黑眚


documented since 15th century
problem of ascertaining what is oral culture and what is
written editing






Demonic Monster(s) 妖魔 (or adjective "demonic");
Creature(s) (物), with some further specification;
Fox(es) (狐 and/or 狸), often with an additional term, such as
“demonic” 妖 or “essence“ 精
Affliction(s) 眚 (sometimes with additional label)
Dark Miasma 黑氣
transmitted narrative consistent:
smaller creatures
attacks at night
entry despite closing doors and windows
 pressure on chest/beatings/wounds
 collective action with (exorcist) noise
 local types: foxes (northern), maliujing & appearances strange
lights (Lingnan) etc.



BACKGROUNDS

causes


problem of lack of detailed info
never during stressful events




anticipatory (Wokou attacks, famine elsewhere, etc.)
post-traumatic (after 1555 famine Shanxi, etc.)
all social groups involved
stigmatisation


only in Lower Yangzi region from 1557 onwards
(1657) “That time there was a magician staying in the
residence of a doctor Zhou, who said of himself that he
could catch the evil with amulet water. In reality he had no
special abilities and only planned to cheat small bribes [out
of people]. The thugs from the market place clamoured
falsely that this man was the one who cut out paper objects
and set free evil creatures. They captured him and sent
him to the magistrate. He was tortured to death in prison.”
ONGOING RUMOURS
minimal list of incidents (without indicating
scale): 1434, 1441, 1476, 1483,1484, 1488, 1503,
1506,1507,1508, 1509, 1510, 1511, 1512, 1513,
1514, 1523, 1529, 1533, 1551, 1553, 1555, 1556,
1557, 1558, 1559, 1560, 1563, 1566, 1572, 1577,
1582, 1589, 1592, 1594, 1595, 1596, 1598, 1600,
1601, 1602, 1606, 1638, 1642, 1643, 1647, 1657,
1658, 1681, 1690, 1709, 1724, 1768, 1769, 1774,
1775, 1777, 1821, 1828, 1829, 1832, 1840, 1844,
1846, 1847, 1849, 1851, 1853, 1963, 1870, 1881,
1886, 1900, 1905, 1910
 limits

data
 carried out in margins other projects

ORGAN SNATCHING
FOETUS THEFT
&
LONG LASTING TRADITION OF FEAR
already pre-Tang Tang (515-845) scares of organ
snatching (in capital regions), ascribed to hairy
monsters and the emperor
 fears of Camphor and Willow deities led to
individual persecutions (since late southern
Song), usually of marginal figures
 use of the accusation to fight individual social
conflicts well-attested Ming-Qing period
 rumours with anonymous perpetrators wellattested 16th -19th century

NB why more cases M/Q period?
REINTERPRETING ANTI-CHRISTIAN EVENTS

accusation of organ-snatching and foetus-theft
applied to Western missionaries
not because of written propaganda (discuss Bixie jishi 辟邪
紀實 case)
 importance of oral transmission of fears, including a
pattern of accusation
 misunderstanding RC rituals and orphan-care


numerous outbreaks collective fear with missionaries
as suspects
1891 riots
 1900 Boxer “rebellion”


“real” analytical nature of such events
not anti-christian or anti-missionary
(eurocentric/nationalist view)
 anti-magician (putting China central, a la proposal Paul
Cohen)

DROUGHT DEMONS
旱魃

term from ancient mythology
“Droughtdemon” fought by Yellow Emperor
 demonic, female creature that causes drought and
needs to be expelled

term for malformed babies
 specific Northern Chinese complex

Hebei, He'nan and Shandong, and the northeast
(Manchuria)
 largely rain dependent regions
 attested in anecdotal sources since late 15th century
 folkloric accounts 20th century


reconstruction taking sources together
THE DROUGHTDEMON COMPLEX
extended period of drought
 recently deceased & buried old women identified
as Droughtdemons

Droughtdemons suck out humidity=> grave humid
 in folklore: hairy (NB 毛), able to fly


collective identification of specific dead woman as
Droughtdemon
despite prohibitions magistrates, resistance relatives
 excavating grave=> confirmation
 total annihilation corpse

legal suits may follow
 specific victims=> fear cannot really spread
supralocally

FEAR OF IMPERIAL HAREM
RECRUITMENT
DIVINE MARRIAGES

sacred marriage to deity
Lord of the River 河伯story and other
stories>derogatory accounts present it as sacrifice
 stories about the successful other thanks to sexual
relationship (五通 in Lower Yangzi region)
 rape explained as divine relationship (understudied)


negative narrative tradition
HAREM RECRUITMENT FEARS

attested 977, and more frequently 1337 until
1715


to what extent is absence of occurrences absence of
data?
basic fear simple:
recruitment of unmarried women for the imperial
harem
 all local single women are married out, irrespective of
age
 often in one of first years new emperor (977, 1337,
1566-1568, 1621-1622, 1645 and 1647), but more
often not
 some cases caused by arrival persons from imperial
court in a region

PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS
TRANSMISSION AND IMPLICATIONS

rumours are expressions of long term narrative
traditions=> evidence on transmission of information
long term (remarkably stable over many centuries)
 very intense over short term as well (especially clear in
case Dark Disasters)


to us incredible narratives have impact
all social layers (there are also always sceptics)
 over time and space
 cause far-reaching collective action




increasingly with human victims
state cannot avoid complicity when people act
importance of local agency: people will always also
think and act for themselves, often on massive scale,
including religious culture
MODERN RUMOURS
esp. research Steve Smith (China historian 1950s
& 1960s, also Russian history)
 rumours do not stop in 1911 or 1949

when modern style news is controlled, rumours only
increase
 they do receive less attention of authors sources


1950s rife with rumours
foreign invasion
 demonic appearances
 apocalyptic rumours

MASS CAMPAIGNS
need to recognizing role oral communication and
interpretation
 Importance of local agency in carrying out and
changing./distorting mass-campaigns


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